Batman Begins would take Chris Nolan to a new level of notoriety. With the previous death of the Batman character (cheers Bat-nipples and neon Gotham), DC was desperate to salvage its caped crusader and make him relevant in the wake of a comic book revival. They gambled, they trusted talent over fame, and it paid off. Many people seem to forget that despite the success of Memento and Insomnia, Nolan was still relatively wet behind the ears at this point in his profession. Batman Begins would end up being the last film in Nolan’s career where a studio would not entrust him with a producer credit. Nolan’s penchant for complex characters and human drama would prove to be the one ingredient Bruce Wayne needed to make him appealing again.
By this point in his life, Nolan was starting to flirt with the idea that films could address theories as part of their core. Batman Begins was full of existential angst and psychological exploration, but its main focus was on the nature of fear. Clearly Nolan was uninterested in the wants and whims of Bat-Fans the world over, and he approached the source material with his now famous dogmatic attitude. He changed the Bat-mobile, picked Ra’s Al Ghul and Scarecrow as the main villains (both well known, yet generally second fiddle characters), cast Patrick Bateman as the Caped Crusader, invented some snooty love interest, and showed no signs of involving the Clown Prince of Crime himself – The Joker. The world had no idea what was about to hit them.
Nolan’s quiet arrogance and unwavering vision must have been extremely unnerving for Warner Bros, who fitted the $150 million bill, but their fears were soon allayed when the film went on to earn over double that amount worldwide, Batman Begins set a model for every comic book film since, and completely reshaped the need for exposition in character origin stories. After Nolan was done in Gotham, Bruce Wayne had become more than a billionaire who liked to play dress up; he became the archetype of a privileged man trying to give back, the suit with which a dark vigilante masked himself.
After Batman Begins, Nolan’s style of directing would never be the same again. He had mastered story, he had perfected tension, and now he was versed in high-octane action set pieces. Batman Begins marked the moment that Nolan went from skilled filmmaker to superstar director.
Stand Out Moment:
Henrik Ibsen once said; “A thousand words will not leave so deep an impression as one deed.” Nolan must be very familiar with this concept, as he has slowly developed a skill in introducing major characters into his films with lasting impact. From David Bowie shrouded in electricity (The Prestige) to DiCaprio washing up on a beach; he always creates mystery and wonder when introducing a major character. Batman Begins marks the origin of this talent, as roughly half way through the film we finally get to see Bruce Wayne’s ‘symbol of terror’ laying some fear-orientated ass whippings on Carmine Falcone’s thugs at Gotham Ship Yard. True to form, Batman doesn’t just walk into a room and introduce himself; he stalks the shadows like a terrifying monster.
Hooligans are lured into the darkness by whispers and noises, only to be rapidly engulfed by a dangerous phantom. Lights are knocked out, something moves through the shadows, men begin to panic and scream, “where are you!?” one man cries, “here” comes the reply. He turns to be faced with an inverted masked man; the stranger grabs him. A group stand in confusion, suddenly the creature drops amongst them – numerous men taken out by one individual. The scene finishes with Falcone being attacked by the creature in his car. The being looks up. It wasn’t a monster, it wasn’t a beast, it was our hero all along – the Batman. He makes eye contact with a nearby tramp, and man whom earlier in the film he had given his coat. “Nice coat,” he deadpans, a great moment of comedy adding a full stop to the horror. What an entrance.
For Nolan to show Batman in this light is a statement that sets a tone for the rest of the film. Batman isn’t seen, he is felt; he is a myth that strikes fear into Gotham’s criminals. We experience this scene from their perspective, and it is simply amazing.
Nolan on Batman Begins:
“…I just wanted to make an attempt to get back to the kind of grand scale filmmaking that I’d enjoyed watching when I was a kid…we tried to put everything in this film, what we wanted to see in a ‘Batman’ film. I very much enjoyed making it so I certainly wouldn’t rule out the possibility of doing further ones. But we’re really interested to see how people are going to respond to this film.”
Nolan rarely uses storyboards in the production process. He frames and edits an entire film in his mind prior to principle photography.
Tomorrow – Nolan goes magical on us with THE PRESTIGE